As a former English teacher, reading to my infant was something I always took for granted as a given. Not only do I have a love of books that I deeply want to share with my children, but I also witnessed first-hand the long-term effects of high-literacy households as compared to lower-literacy ones. What I didn’t count on was how challenging it could be to read to a baby. Between the grabbing, chewing, squirming, and crying, it’s a miracle if we get through more than a page of even a simple story. So that led me to this article, which is for any mom who may be wondering: Is reading to babies really that important?, what are the benefits of reading to my infant?, what kinds of books should I read to my baby?, or how do I read to my high-needs baby?
READING TO BABIES: WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
Many moms have already heard that reading to babies is incredibly important, but they may be less familiar with the specifics of why. Research shows that reading to babies helps promote brain development, build vocabulary, develop an understanding of language skills, and increase brain processing speed.
These effects are especially noticeable once children begin school. Children whose parents have read to them often since infancy start kindergarten with much higher literacy rates than those who have read to their children less frequently. This discrepancy has an exponential effect on their academic growth in such a way that they excel much more quickly than their less literate peers.
Beyond the brain and language development benefits, reading to babies also promotes parent-child bonding, empathy, and emotional intelligence, and help establish routines.
WHAT SHOULD YOU READ TO YOUR BABY?
Both the quality and quantity of books read to infants matters when it comes to their development. Of course, anything is better than nothing, but the best books to choose for babies are soft books or board books that are developmentally appropriate, have minimal words and pictures on each page, have colorful pictures, and that teach babies valuable vocabulary and routines, or that support pro-social interactions.
HOW TO READ TO YOUR BABY
If you’re like me, you might have visions of you snuggled up on the couch under a blanket or tucked away before bed reading a story together in peaceful harmony, and maybe that will be your experience. I hope it is. But it’s also possible it won’t be, especially when your baby is little.
That being said, the quality of how you read to your baby is as important as the texts you choose, but “quality” in this case may look different from how you would expect. It is important to read to your baby every day and it’s important to promote active reading by pointing to the pictures, talking about the book, and discussing the emotions of the characters. Using varied tones and facial expressions will also help your baby build reading comprehension.
All of this may sound intimidating at first, but it may surprise you to know that in your baby’s early months (e.g. 5-8 months old), you really only need to aim for one or two minutes at a time. You also don’t need to worry about reading the book from start to finish or in order, and you don’t need to worry if your baby simply wants to chew the book. (These points were all a huge relief to me, as James regularly begins our reading adventures with focus and excitement, but quickly devolves into a puddle of tears as soon as he realizes the pictures aren’t three-dimensional or that the paper doesn’t taste very good).
BABY READING LIST:
- (I bolded James’ favorites)
- Goodnight Moon
- Little Blue Truck
- The Going to Bed Book
- Moo, Baa, La La La
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Dr. Suess (any)
- Giraffes Can’t Dance
- Pat the Bunny
- Highlights Hello Magazine
James also really loves poetry. Sometimes we just pick a poem from our Children’s Poetry Anthology or Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats to read to him while we put his pajamas and Owlet sock on after his bath and before bedtime.
Highlights Hello Magazine
Some of my favorite texts to read to James (as of 5 months old) are Highlights Hello magazines. Each issue has a topic that it focuses on (some past issues have been the farm, toys, machines, opposites, homes, bath time, and feelings). This kind of theme organization naturally develops word families to help babies learn vocabulary.
Inside each issue, you’ll find 1-2-page stories, short poems or songs put to the tunes of classic lullabies, a simple find-it puzzle, and pictures and drawings to accompany the words on the pages, as well as helpful tips for parents, in the margins. Because a single piece of content never spans more than a page or two it’s perfectly natural for your baby to jump around to whatever page or pages interest him/her without losing the thread of a full-fledged storybook.
You’ll also find inclusive pictures of babies of varied genders, races, and ethnicities. This has been really important to us because, with COVID, James hasn’t had the opportunity to meet very many other children. At least this way he is seeing other children, some who look similar to him, and others who look different from him. Finally, I love that they are made of thick, durable, glossy paper that holds up to baby spit and teeth. And since he gets a new one each month, I’m not as worried about him ruining one.
They cost just under $40 for one year (12 issues) or $62 for 2 years (24 issues) and are designed for babies ages 0-2. Keep in mind that many board books cost $10-14 each. I’m sorry to devote so much of this article to a product review, but I’m seriously obsessed with these little books.
Reading to your baby as part of their daily routine is important for developing life-long literacy skills as well as for helping them develop the language and social skills that will make them more successful in school. But incorporating daily reading into your infants routine need not be stressful. Choosing short, fun board books that your child can explore (or even chew on) at their own pace will help you bond with your baby and instill a love of books that will serve them well for many years to come.